Law discussion: Scrum - use it or lose it
Tomás Cubelli of the Brumbies puts the ball into a scrum about seven metres from the Waratahs' line, an important scrum.
The Brumbies heel the ball, but it stays within the scrum.
Jarrad Butler is playing No.8 at the time and the referee says to him: "Use it, No.8."
The ball stays in the scrum, and the referee says: "Got to use it."
The ball stays in the scrum and the referee says: "Use it or lose it."
The ball stays in the scrum and the referee stops play, says to Butler: "I told you three times to use it and you didn't listen."
The referee awards a scrum to the Waratahs.
The commentator says: "What is that call? I don't understand it. It's a scrum, still up, moving forward, still straight. That's a referee chickening out of making a decision."
The "chickening out" bit can be ignored, because the referee did make a decision, an important one, for from the scrum the Waratahs were able to clear the ball downfield, immediate danger averted.
A judgemental remark such as this is clearly unwarranted.
Look to the law. Whenever there is something like this that you don't understand go to the law. There are two pieces of law here, one of them new.
Law 20.4 THE TEAM THROWING THE BALL INTO THE SCRUM
(e) When a scrum remains stationary and the ball does not emerge immediately a further scrum is ordered at the place of the stoppage. The ball is thrown in by the team not in possession at the time of the stoppage.
(f) When a scrum becomes stationary and does not start moving immediately, the ball must emerge immediately. If it does not, a further scrum will be ordered. The ball is thrown in by the team not in possession at the time of the stoppage.
That would seem to fit in with the first part – where the ball does not come out of a stationary scrum. That is an established part of the law.
The next bit of law is new law, promulgated this year, and therefore important to those with an interest in the laws and those with a responsibility to explain the laws accurately.
Law 20.10 ENDING THE SCRUM
(d) When the attacking team has the ball at Number 8’s feet, and is trying to get the shove on, but not obtaining any go-forward, the referee will call “use-it” once the ball has been at Number 8’s feet for a reasonable amount of time to permit the work towards a shove. (3-5 seconds). The attacking team must then use the ball immediately.
Those of the specifics of the law and they make the action understandable. It has nothing to do the scrum's being up and straight. And the moving forward needed to happen in good time.
But the specifics of what happened here make the decision open to question.
Once the ball has been at Number 8’s feet for a reasonable amount of time
When the referee first gives the order to use if, the ball is clearly not at the No.8's feet but below the knee of the left lock (Tom Staniforth) and thus in front of his feet.
When the referee tells Butler that he didn't listen, Butler's reply is significant: "I did not have the ball."
The only way he, personally, could have 'liberated' the ball would have been by using his hands, and that is not allowed.
Law 20.9 SCRUM – GENERAL RESTRICTIONS
(b) All players: Handling in the scrum. Players must not handle the ball in the scrum or pick it up with their legs.
Sanction: Penalty kick
When the ball did get to the No.8's feet the scrum was moving forward, which was the purpose of the law change which the explanation on the change made clear: "The proposal will still give teams a fair chance for creating go-forward but it will prevent situations where perfectly good contests become reset scrums."
According to the laws there is no threefold instruction – just one, and then five seconds to go forward or get the ball out. "Use it or lose it" is not part of the law and it is best for a referee to speak in terms of the law's requirements. But the stationary scrum with the stationary ball in it and not emerging means that the scrum was the only option, not eventually getting the scrum moving.
The decision to have a scrum with the Waratahs to feed the ball is a correct one, but "use it" was in the wrong place at the wrong time – and it is not fitting for a referee to encourage a player to break the law!
By Paul Dobson